Problems of the fleet of aircraft as revealed by Malaysian Defence Minister Mohamad Sabu last month were not related to weak maintenance, according to high officials who knew the Malaysian Air Force (TUDM).
As quoted from the Free Malaysia Today website, sources who spoke on condition of anonymity said that the Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) was under pressure due to limited budget to support its fleet consisting of various types of fighter aircraft.
Mohamad, or Mat Sabu, last month said that RMAF had 18 units of Sukhoi Su-30MKM made in Russia and 10 units of MiG-29. However, only 4 of the Su-30MKM are eligible to fly, while that of the other 14 are being repaired.
But he mentioned that the key problem was the manufacturing country itself.
“The problem with Russian aircraft is the way they do business,” said the source.
The Su-30MKM is the most advanced fighter jet in the RMAF inventory, it was purchased in an agreement worth USD 900 million in 2003, the last year Dr. Mahathir Mohamad served.
The agreement was signed in 2003. Six Sukhoi Su-30MKM units were shipped in 2007 and the rest in 2009.
As part of the agreement, Russia bought palm oil from Malaysia and trained a Malaysian astronaut who in 2007 became the first Malaysian to travel into space.
The official said initially, the RMAF received good support from Russia, but finally found out about the “complexity” of the Russian bureaucracy. Among them is that the purchase must go through a state-owned company, which then deals with the original manufacturer or design bureau, so it cannot directly.
“That makes it difficult for us. They should support us for a certain time after we get the jet, they don't reveal everything. In the midst of procurement, we were not told about the need to carry out maintenance after 10 years, which only those who could do,“he said.
On the other hand, US-made fighter jets are easy to manage because their maintenance and procurement systems are direct and systematic, he added. He also said the US had a Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program to facilitate the sale of weapons, defence equipment,defence services and military training to foreign governments, even though it had to go through US Senate approval.
The source then said that even though the Malaysian government had for years delivered budget allocations to RMAF, everything was insufficient by taking into account the diverse and aging fleets.
While defence industry sources, echoed the same concerns, said that Russian fighter jet service was more expensive because it had to go through third parties.
“The problem with defense procurement in this country is that Malaysian officials do not like buying fighter jets from the US or UK because if we buy from them the price tag will be higher”, he added.
He further said that more transparent ways of dealing with countries such as the US and Britain were not something that local officials would welcome.